Missing Autumn

IMG_0632

returned to the Northwest this season, observing fall for the first time in thirty years.

I watched the trees behind my cottage transform from greens to yellow to gold.

The morning sun hits the bank just so, highlighting shades of crimson and sienna and umber against the verdant backdrop along the ridge.

IMG_0607

IMG_0618

I walk the beach where gold and yellow tumble with stones and sand.

I climb the hill lined with limbs still holding on to gilded gifts.

One releases, and flutters side to side, descending lightly to the ground to rest.

 

It is right I am here this autumn,

this season of transforming, maturing

grasping, holding on to gifts–

my children, all grown, branching into careers, marriages.

the youngest two in college, one soon to graduate.

my mother, just out of hospice, quieter now

still sees me, translucent, and smiles.

We spend time browsing through sheaves of photographs

Some in her season, her prime.

IMG_9743

 

I see myself reflected in her smile

those years when she was young

surrounded by friends

and family

when she was a young mother

holding on to us

then letting go

her season follows traveling with Dad

places they dreamed of Rome, Israel,

now alone, in her autumn.

IMG_0624

autumn

uphill journey rises

crests at forest’s peak, descends 

as crimson leaves fall

 

autumn: n.

a time of full maturity, especially the late stages of full maturity or, sometimes, the early stages of decline

IMG_0713

In this autumn 

I will watch leaves drift unto the path

gathering with others that have done the same.

I will hold in wonder their change

the beauty of ripening, then release.

I will stand still 

to catch my breath, not listening to former urges

to press forward.

 

Instead I will gather leaves

that descend upon my way

Press them into my book

to remember.

IMG_0609

Smokescreen

IMG_6515

Our waters are surrounded by a smokescreen.

For weeks and days our waters on the Puget Sound are shrouded by a smoky fog, the result of fires burning out of control to the north of us in Canada and the south of us in Oregon.

Just now I hear a ship’s foghorn bellowing a warning of its approach.

For in these waters we cannot see what is ahead of us, but must move forward.

IMG_6674

——————————————

Last week my sister and I sat together at the table with a social worker from hospice.

Our mother had been admitted two weeks ago, and we meet to talk about mom’s situation.

We have just discussed our mother’s end of life plan over a form we must fill out that checks off which measures we will take or not take to extend her life.

CPR. No.

Feeding tube. No.

Ventilator. No.

Antibiotics…….this is a grey area difficult to define.  Will we administer antibiotics to prolong life?  Or for comfort measures only.

For now, we check the box….to prolong life.

She was admitted to hospice after being diagnosed with aspiration pneumonia. Her breathing was labored and shallow. She was weak, and tired. Yet a smile still lights up her face when we walk into the room.

Her pneumonia cleared up after a round of antibiotics. But with her swallowing reflex diminishing, she is at risk of aspirating again.

Over the phone in a twenty minute conversation, the hospice doctor patiently walked through the steps of the hospice decision with me after doing an assessment on my mother.

“When we come to this stage in the Alzheimer’s disease, we need to prepare ourselves that it is not the Alzheimer’s that will kill her, but another ailment. An infection such as pneumonia can be the cause of her demise. At some point we must assess, are we prolonging the inevitable at the cost of the quality of her life? This is a point for you and your family to decide.”

We review the living will she filled out ten years ago, before this Alzheimer’s fog arrested her brain.

At that time she stated, “I wish no extensive measures to prolong my life, as long as quality of life is not compromised.”

How do we measure the quality of a life?  Who helps us decide that?

———————————

There was one point out on the water on my paddleboard this morning I become suddenly afraid, gripped by fear of the darkness below me.

The view that at first was calming and beautiful out on the still, clear water, drew me slowly over the dark and ominous, deeper cold waters of the Puget Sound.

Fear drove me to push myself closer to shore. Paddling over shallower waters I could see the beauty of the bulbous kelp’s long ribbons floating below, tiny red crabs holding on for a free ride. The pouf of a grand Lion’s Mane jellyfish appeared underneath. I watch the pulse of its feathery red tendrils.

Largelionsmanejellyfish

(Photo by Dan Hershmanhttps://www.flickr.com/)

From above an osprey plunges into the cold waters, clenching life from the sea into its talons to take life into the air, towards the sky.

Below the surface life abounds, just beyond the eye’s first glimpse. 

————————————

I step into my mother’s room for just a few moments, on the way to meet my husband for our 36th anniversary dinner.  He has walked this path of caregiving with me for one-fourth of our married life. He first met my mother when he was 17 years old, my high school sweetheart. He was been first hand witness to my mother’s decline.

Today when I walk into her room her eyes light up with recognition.

I sit next to her wheelchair, kiss her cheek, and hold her hand.  Her sweet smile shows me this is enough, to be next to her, rubbing the folds of her soft hand in mine, though the rest of her mind is lost in the darkness of Alzheimer’s. I read to her a story I wrote about her, one called “Messy Edges”, a story that shares how she has taught me to see beauty in difficult places through her disease, Alzheimer’s. She continues to hold my hand as I read to her out loud.

For many years she read to me at my bedside, aloud. She was the one who taught me to love words. She was the one who taught many others to love words and stories in her role as a third grade teacher.

Her words are few now. Yet her smile expresses all that is unsaid.

Today she is able to listen intently at the words I have written, my first in print. I end the story. I tighten my grip on her hand. 

“Mom, you always told me I was a writer,” I tell her.

She looks up at me and smiles, her angelic smile from heaven.

She nods.

“You are.”

IMG_5259 3

To read a copy of the essay, “Messy Edges” and many other beautiful essays on the grace of aging, follow the link to The Wonder Years, 40 Women over 40 on  Faith, Beauty and Strength , an anthology edited by Leslie Leyland Fields

https://www.amazon.com/Wonder-Years-Women-Beauty-Strength/dp/0825445221

https://alzauthors.com/2018/08/29/meet-vina-mogg-alzheimers-blogger-at-seaglasslife-com/

I am an AlzAuthor

Messy Edges….Lola’s story in print available today!

 

IMG_3499 2

Lola, as my mom is lovingly known (Lola means “grandmother” in Tagalog), celebrated her 94th birthday last weekend.  The greatest tribute I could give my mother is to write a story about her beautiful heart.  On her birthday I had the honor of presenting for the first time an essay entitled “Messy Edges” at the Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  This story briefly encapsulates the beauty and the heartbreak of caring for my mother in my home for eight years, and the release I found during that time through the gift of watercolor painting.  The essay is published in an anthology entitled, The Wonder Years, 40 Women over 40 on Faith, Aging, Beauty and Strength, edited by my dear mentor and friend Leslie Leyland Fields.

IMG_3143

IMG_3145

 

(excerpt from “Messy Edges)

My mother is still with me as I write this. Today, I stop when she notices a red geranium, just like the ones she used to have outside her home.

 “What flower is that, Mom?” I ask her. 

She looks at it and smiles. “Geranium,” she whispers. 

She smiles and time stands still. She pushes me to see beauty and wonder in every small thing, as if for the first time. My mother, even in her illness, gives me this gift, this gift of seeing. When I paint, these are the moments I try to capture. A field of sunflowers, a field of lavender. I try to keep the colors pure and vibrant on the paper, not muddied.   I try to use brushstrokes that remain fresh and lively, not overworked. For previously I was holding on, too tightly, to the brush, to mom’s health, to life, afraid to loosen the grip, to lose control of the things I could not control.  Now I understand  that beauty unfolds in the letting go, in allowing the messy edges to bleed. 

My story is one of many, glimpses into the lives of 40 women and the firsts, lasts, and always moments they have experienced during this season of life.  I am honored to have Lola’s story tucked between authors I admire such as Ann Voskamp, Elisabeth Eliot, Madeline L’Engle, Luci Shaw, Brene Brown, Lauren Winner and Jill Kandel. Each story is beautifully crafted, leaving the reader with a takeaway that could make you laugh out loud, cry, or sigh in relief knowing someone else shares your voice.

The greatest joy of this story is the hope and strength I have received in being able now to transform a difficult time in my life and my family’s life into a place of encouragement  to others along the same journey.

Please pick up your copy of The Wonder Years today on Amazon.  If you need more convincing, please check out Lola’s promotional video below!  I had the privilege of reading it out loud to her, and she wholeheartedly approves.

 

“What more important, Lola?  Faith, Beauty or Strength?”

“All of them,” she says with a smile.

Love that is not Lost

There is a love that bears all things, the kind of love that looks you straight in the eye, into your soul, and sees everything….and still loves. The kind that allows you to be so transparent that nothing is hidden yet everything is loved. When we experience that kind of love our soul is blessed beyond all measure. The joy of holding that kind of love transcends any pain that may follow. For the greatest gift of this kind of love….from a mother, a spouse, a child, a friend, a dog….is knowing that just being in their presence is enough

I repost this blog today, Valentine’s Day, in honor of those whose love completely and unconditionally

 

Her eyes are glazed, yet a light in them still shines.

Her hearing is diminished, yet she still senses me.

She sits at my feet, as I rub her back between the shoulders.

She groans in acknowledgment, as if this happiness is too much to bear.

For a moment the panting stops.

A smile rests under her droopy eyes.

Her head turns, through those dimmed eyes she tells me of her love.
In days past, sixteen years of them, I would rush past her.

a quick pat on the head and I would be off

doing the things moms do, carpool, grocery shopping, logging miles on the minivan within my five mile radius

but when I returned she would be waiting

always with a wagging tail and a smile.

At times when things were not so rushed–

the groceries put away, the laundry folded–

I would put my tennis shoes on.

She would wag her, her eyes pleading expectantly.

“You wanna take a walk?” I would ask

and with that last word she would trot to the door.
We had our routine path, around the corner, past the pond, down to the left where old oak trees shaded us from the sweltering Florida sun, around the corner again along the sidewalk where bunnies scampered and butterflies flittered into the bramble when we passed.

  

When we turned back into the neighborhood her pace picked up a bit as she scampered up the driveway.

She knew she was home.

Years later, mom came to live with us. She was 83 years old. She partnered with us on these walks. Together the three of us would take that familiar path. Around the corner, past the pond, down to the left where old oak trees shaded us from the sweltering Florida sun, around the corner again along the sidewalk where bunnies scampered and butterflies flittered into the bramble when we passed. They were times to share tidbits of conversation or times of quiet reflection. Times of companionship.


When we turned back into the neighborhood, mom would exclaim every time, “Thank you, Lord, that we are home.”

Home.

A place of safety.

A place of familiarity

A place of refuge.
These walls of safety have kept out the elements. They have braved three hurricanes, a few tornado warnings, and multiple thunderstorms, even a lightning strike that hit the house and burned out our alarm system.

But these walls cannot shield us from the elements of aging, ones that grapple arthritic bones,

cataracts that dim the eyes, hearing loss that deafens a whisper

or amyloid plaques that tangle the brain.

These are elements that walls cannot keep out

so within these walls we must adapt and acclimate.

For many years I rushed in and out, hurrying on to the next thing.

Now

these elements bear down:

arthritis, aging, alzheimer’s,

causing me to slow.

Stop fighting

Stop rushing past.

Try to hold up.

Try to listen.

Try to see.

So we keep the routine.

Take the walks until the day the feet can only shuffle

Rub the back.

Hold the hand.

 

The smile still lingers, the one that rests under droopy eyes

and the sigh that says this happiness is too much to bear.

The head turns, the light in the eyes still shines

and through those dimmed eyes she tells me of her love.

A few months ago, the time came to put Cindy down. She was 16 years old. In her way, she let me know it was time.

She was lying down on a pink blanket.  I put my face next to hers.  She lifted her head slightly and looked straight into my eyes. With those eyes she said to me:

It’s OK. I love you. And I know that you love me and have loved me well. It’s OK to say good-bye. Let me go.

I love you.

 
 http://jenniferdukeslee.com/tell-his-story/